ALJ at the PVB – Law Stories with Barry Seidel

night court

Back in the 1980’s, for a few years I was an Administrative Law Judge at the NYC Parking Violations Bureau (ALJ at the PVB). The Law Journal ad said all you needed was five years in practice and the job paid $89 per 3 hour session. So, at age 31, I became a “Judge”.

I thought it was really cool to get the $89 for each of the Judge training sessions, and then I was sworn in and ready to commence judging. You could request which shifts you wanted. I figured out that the Bronx wasn’t so popular with a lot of the other Judges, most of whom were either “retired” or “really old and practically out of business”, so if I requested the Bronx I could get the shifts I wanted. The evening choices were 5-8, 5:30 – 8:30, or 6-9. I was a big fan of 6-9, once I realized that the Clerks stopped accepting new cases at 8:30, and if you had no cases at 8:30, your 6-9 shift ended and you still got the whole $89.

If it wasn’t busy,  you were permitted to do other work. If I got some other work done while I was sitting as a Judge, I considered this “LEVERAGE”, and felt really business savvy. Sometimes I didn’t feel like doing other work, and I would spend my time talking to the other Judges and the PVB clerks, who were all very nice.

I did plenty of judging too. There was an “intake area”, where the Clerks would make sure the “cases” (people who were fighting parking tickets) were “ready for trial”. When they had enough people they would randomly fill the rooms, presumably to prevent Judge shopping. Believe it or not, years later I found out that one of my co-Judges in the Bronx was indicted for having cases directed to his room and “fixing the tickets”. I wasn’t going to risk my $89 doing stuff like that, and besides, I was having too much fun judging the cases.

When I got a full room, I always started by making a great speech. I would drone on about my procedures, and the different ways one could plead their case, and when the whole room was nodding out I would conclude with…..”and remember, multiple first prize winners share the jackpot in accordance with lottery rules.”

In this court there were no prosecutors, just pro-se defendants. Actually, the ticket was considered the prosecutorial instrument. Part of my training was to notice if the ticket was defective, in which case I was supposed to dismiss it. I was obliged to do this even if the defendant did not realize the defect and wanted to defend on some other basis.

One common defect was “wrong date”. Once, in say April, 1988, I was presented with a “no standing” summons dated April 9, 1989. The defendant pled not guilty and started to explain about the sign or some such nonsense, but I stopped him when I noticed the futuristic date. I told him we had two choices……I could hear what he had to say and decide whether it made sense, OR we could wait until 4/9/89 to see whether he would in fact commit the infraction. All the English speaking people in the room laughed, and then I dismissed the ticket.

One might think there were a lot of Spanish speaking customers in the Bronx, and there were, but I was also amazed at the variety of other languages. One night the first defendant was Russian, and when his case was done I said “Dasvidaniya” (good-bye) to him. The next defendant was Haitian, and while we were reviewing his case I said “Le jeuz son fait” (literally ‘the die is cast’), and he smiled. The next man approached and he had an Israeli sounding name and I just had a feeling, so I said “Ma shlomcha” (how are you?) when we started and “Shalom” when we were done.

Finally, a Hispanic man approached, sat down and said “You speak Spanish?” What could I say? I said “NO”.

I did handle a large volume of cases, and I must have pleased someone in authority, because after six months I was asked to be on the “appeals board”. These were cases that were appealed from the ALJ’s. The Board sat in Manhattan, and consisted of the Chief ALJ and two “selected” ALJ’s. When the Chief called me, he said I would be the youngest ALJ to ever serve on the Appeals Board, and it was “quite an honor”. I asked what the pay was, and he told me $89 for a three hour session, but we sit in Manhattan at “headquarters”. I told him I felt so……”honored”, but I mostly liked working in the Bronx at night.

After all, I valued my leverage.

All opinions, advice, and experiences of guest bloggers/columnists are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions, practices or experiences of Solo Practice University®.

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